Look sharp! The Rentals contemplate going "crunk."  Photo courtesy of The Rentals.
Look sharp! The Rentals contemplate going "crunk." Photo courtesy of The Rentals.

Second Helpings

An argument could be made that Matt Sharp has reunited his synth-laden band the Rentals, except he hasn't. Sharp, the original Weezer bassist who played on that group's first two albums, was the honcho during his band's first stint from 1995 to 1999. During that period, the Rentals released Return of the Rentals and Seven More Minutes, each with a different lineup of musicians, and each tour with a separate lineup than those on the records. Because of this, Sharp was anointed by some as the brains behind the group, which isn't completely accurate.

"The people who worked on those two albums certainly had a large impact on what we were trying to do," Sharp says. "At times, there's been a misconception that I was the person behind those records. I've been given too much credit where credit is due for other people."

The Rentals enjoyed instant mainstream success thanks to the single "Friends of P." from Return. The band took the harmony-filled pattern set by Weezer and expanded on it by incorporating Moog synthesizers and dueling male/female vocals. The juxtaposition of Sharp's simultaneous tenure in two successful groups was unique in that both outfits shared many similarities (including Weezer drummer Pat Wilson, who played on Return) yet didn't sound alike. Where Weezer rocked out, the Rentals went soft.

Sharp is the only holdover from the Rentals' original run playing in the current version. Unlike his band's previous experience, this go-around will focus more on acting like a traditional band, i.e., members who make the Rentals their top priority and record and tour with the group. The singer, who says calling the Rentals circa 2007 a reunited act is a bit misleading, details the writing process of the first two discs as "more with the collective mindset" and believes this approach is what caused the seven-year absence between Seven and the Rentals' latest release, an EP titled Last Little Life.

"At that time, it was about seeing who was around to contribute," Sharp says. "Then at the end, the question was 'what now?' We never said there wouldn't be more records or concerts, but the idea of re-approaching it was an intimidating thought because the first time took a lot of energy. That's not an approach I want to re-experience."

During the Rentals' downtime, Sharp moved to Leipers Fork, Tennessee, to get away from the music industry. He kept a very low profile until word got out that the former fuzzed-out bassist was embarking on a solo acoustic career that eventually saw the release of an EP in 2003 and a full-length in 2004, plus the occasional tour to support those discs. The switch to a quieter, more intimate sound created a barrier for the songwriter's leap back into a full-fledged band.

"I had a phobia of drums for about five years," Sharp says. "I got allergic to the ecstatic part of rock, drummers crashing on rides and splashes. All the aggressive elements didn't have anything to do with the music I listened to, so I tried to disconnect from that. Trying to reconnect was a real gentle process. I really had to get over that particular phobia because I had a distaste for all things aggressive for a while. But now I've been fully baptized."

With a résumé that includes leading a band through two successful albums and a solo career, why would Sharp revisit the idea of playing under his former band's moniker? The singer describes the songs he wrote as a solo artist as "not having any real tight form to them." Then in 2004, he regrouped with Weezer singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo (most famously during a Sharp solo show at Cal State Fullerton's Pub). The pair met on Saturday afternoons so Sharp could go over new song ideas with his former band mate, who suggested writing in a more concise manner. Sharp was later asked by singer/songwriter Sara Radle to sing the male vocal on one of her songs. The formula of male/female vocals was familiar, sparking Sharp's interest in returning to a pattern he worked with before.

"A lot of things came to the same point at the same time," Sharp says. "But it's a hard question to answer."



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